Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak wants to have it both ways. On the one hand, this Tuesday (Feb 1, 2011), he appeared with billionaire publishing magnate Glen Taylor, hawking a plan to spend $155 million, much of it public money, on a “facelift” for Target Center, which the City owns and Taylor’s Timberwolves and Lynx basketball teams play in. On the other hand, Rybak wants to be seen as a practical mayor who shares the priorities of city residents and neighborhood activists.
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Of a potential Timberwolves Tax to pay for his grand plan for Target Center, Rybak tells Minnpost “I don’t want to deal with this issue, frankly, but we simply have to do it.” Rybak claims his plan is a “a sensible, sustainable Minnesota solution,” and that if we didn’t pay a Timberwolves Tax now, we’d have to pay more later.
Instead of attacking the national problem of freeloading professional sports teams–or the spineless public officials that aid and abet them–Rybak attacks the rest of the state, saying that he is sick of Minneapolis being “THE local partner…We’re looking for equity.”
While it’s true that Minneapolis has paid more money in stadium taxes than any other part of the state, having funded the Metropolitan Stadium, Metrodome, Target Center, and Target Field (the last one through citizens’ paying a Hennepin County Twins Tax), perhaps that fact is not the fault of the rest of the state. Instead, it could be that Minneapolis is the only city that won’t say “no” to billionaire panhandlers. That mentality was certainly on display in the ’90s, when the City helped bail out Target Center–and the mayor and city council never saw a corporate subsidy they didn’t like.
Since Minneapolis has been willing to waste money in the past, State leaders have started to think Minneapolis has a responsibility to continue to do so. To that end, some legislators want to reintroduce a bill from last session that would sieze revenues from a 3% Minneapolis entertainment tax that currently funds the Convention Center. The legislators say that because the Convention Center’s bonds will likely be paid off around 2020, it makes sense to take away the Convention Center Tax at that time and convert it to a Vikings Tax. This concept is particularly appealing to the vast majority of legislators who live outside of the City and would pay little or no Vikings Tax under this plan. Rybak says that the Convention Center Tax will be necessary for ongoing maintenance of the Convention Center, which generally doesn’t turn a profit. If the Convention Center Tax becomes a Vikings Tax, the City may end up using property taxes to pay for improvements.
Rybak isn’t terribly concerned about the Vikings possibly moving to a proposed Arden Hills stadium, which would be heavily subsidized by Ramsey County. “If they did that, I shouldn’t as the Mayor of Minneapolis jump up and say, ‘Terrible idea’ … I believe we should look at every idea without parochial interests, and if it was up to us to play a regional role, we should do that.”
Rybak is much more concerned about Target Center. Rybak claims to have asked staffers “Would we be better off not being in this business?” Meaning, being an arena owner. Even the trade publication Arena Digest is skeptical:
They argue there are enough events in the Twin Cities area to support two arenas, but the smart money says otherwise: given the current Target Center already requires more than a million in city subsidy and undoubtedly a huge amount for renovations from the state, one could argue it is not an economically wise decision to throw good money after bad. There is not a market that can support two major arenas, and the Twin Cities are no different.
Still, Rybak seems adamant that some Timberwolves Tax plan needs to be implemented to fund Target Center improvements. “Closing Target Center would remove 200 event nights from the center of the city,” he said. “Right now it would be stupid to kill a cash cow.” One wonders how an arena that has racked up nearly $1.8 million in annual losses the last five years and $2 million in 2006 (which were all covered by city taxpayers), and also gets $750,000 in annual bond payments from the state, can be considered a “cash cow.” “Money hole” comes to mind.
In an indication of how callous Rybak is toward his overburdened constituents, he said that the following ordinance is “one of about 57 huge questions that are unanswered right now.” It doesn’t appear to be an “unanswered question,” it appears to be a very clear section of the City Charter
Chapter 15, Section 13
Putting Professional Sports Facility Financing Before the Voters.
The City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Community Development Agency, or any city department, agency, commission, or board, shall use no city resources over $10 million dollars for the financing of professional sports facilities without the approval of a simple majority of the votes cast on the question, in a ballot question put to the public at the next regularly scheduled election. City resources are defined for these purposes as: Tax increment financing, bonds, loans, land purchase or procurement, land or site preparation, including necessary infrastructure such as roads, parking development, sewer and water, or other infrastructure development, general fund expenditures, sales tax or other taxes, deferred payments, interest free or below market interest rate loans, the donation or below market value sale of any city resources or holdings or any other free or below cost city services. The ballot question shall not be put before the public in a special election, in order to prevent the costs associated with special elections. (11-4-97)
But what does Rybak care? He’s Mayor until at least 2013, and even if he decides to step down at that point after 3 terms, he’s sure to find work as a lobbyist or PR man for one of the organizations he’s spent city funds on.
So how would Rybak like it all to play out? “I think it’s possible that all these things could get tied up together with a pretty bow [in one legislative bill], but it’s unlikely everything thing can get solved with one brilliant idea.” But he believes he has at least part of the “solution.” The mayor wants a 0.1% statewide Vikings Tax to be levied on all entertainment in Minnesota. The Republican-led legislature has said that concept is DOA, but Rybak presses on. “My point is … any solution has to include everyone.” What we really need is for everyone in Minnesota to learn to say “NO” to greedy sports teams owners and “NO” to a Vikings Tax, a Timberwolves Tax, or any type of sports team tax.